The Kru people migrated eastward from Liberia in the 15th century at the time the Portuguese were trading ivory and slaves on the coast. In the 16th century the Senoufo and Lubi moved in from the north (Burkina Faso & Mali). In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Malinké came from the northwest (Guinea) and the Akan Baoulé arrived from the east (Ghana).
In the 1830s the French signed treaties with coastal rulers and Côte d’Ivoire was made a colony in 1893 after a long war with the Mandika warlord Samory Touré. In 1944 Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a Baule chief, farmer, and doctor, founded a union of African farmers from which emerged the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire PDCI which soon allied with the Marxist Rassemblement Démocratique Africain RDA.
Houphouët-Boigny became the country’s first president following independence in 1960. He ruled with an iron hand until his death at the age of 88 and was succeeded in 1993 by a Baoulé of his choice, Henri Konan-Bédié who was confirmed by elections in 1995.
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Abidjan's various districts are separated by arms of the lagoon that makes it one of the finest ports in West Africa thanks to the Vridi canal giving access to the ocean. The Charles de Gaule bridge seen here separates the skyscraper studded business center called "Le Plateau" to the left from Treichville and Marcory to the south where workers live. Treichville renowned for its busy market and wild nightlife which is more safely enjoyed in a group than alone.
Abidjan has modern six lane highways to move its population of almost 3 million but the traffic in the business center of Le Plateau is generally jammed like what you see here on Delafosse avenue where two major banks are located.
Great fortunes were made in Abidjan's heyday, some of them through honest hard work and others through corruption. The Ivory Coast's 1998 low score of 3.1 out of 10 on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published by Transparency International, reflects the judgement of the many business people who testified on their experiences in the country for the four independent surveys that went into establishing that score.
This is the famous "Hôtel Ivoire" in the upper class Cocody residential district west of Le Plateau. This 750 room lives star hotel has everything, an ice-skating rink, a bowling alley, seven tennis courts, a cinema, a casino, a luxury grocery store and a major art shop.
Cocody and Le Plateau are well policed and relatively safe compared to Abidjan's other districts. A few years ago Abidjan was one of Africa's most dangerous cities along with Lagos and Johannesburg. The situation has now improved following a resolute campaign of brutal law enforcement which included the payment of bounties for the elimination of known criminals (without trial).
The Ivory Coast has two of the world's largest Catholic Cathedrals even though only one in ten Ivoirians are Catholic. Such are the ways of power... when there's no opposition.
After independence, Houphouët-Boigny, who reigned with an iron hand for more than two decades before his death in 1993, was rewarded by the French with generous grants and technical assistance for having blocked Senghor's project of a West African Federation. The French community grew from 10 000 to 50 000, most of them teachers and advisors, and Boigny's policy of collaboration with the former colonial power paid off handsomely with the Ivory Coast enjoying the highest growth rate, (10%), in Africa during the '60's and '70's. (oil-exporting countries excluded). A world recession and a severe drought in the early '80's brought the economy to a standstill with an annual growth of less than half a percent from 1985 to 1995 but now, things are looking up once again.
Here is Louis Varre in front of the Hotel Le Stop which he manages for Oswald Loosli whom I had met in Conakry. By a remarkable coincidence it turned out that Louis was the brother-in-law of René-Yvon Brancart, a high-ranking ivoirian civil servant that I had met here on business 27 years earlier.
It was a real joy and pleasure to see René-Yvon after such a long time. We had a lot to exchange on the course of events during the intervening years so the three of us went out on the town and had a ball until the small hours of the morning (I slept most of the following day!).
After recuperating from my nocturnal excesses, I took a taxi brousse on the autoroute not far from my hotel for a day trip to Grand Bassam which had been the capital during the first years of the colony.
High-quality masks and wood carvings along with gold jewelry and textiles are specialties not to be missed by visitors of the Ivory Coast. This shop in touristy Grand Bassam was expensive but it had some superb museum quality pieces.
Grand Bassam is now just a nostalgic relic of its heyday as capital of the colony of the end to of the 19th century.
Most of it is run-down and decrepit but some of the finer buildings have been maintained as tourist attractions.
Naturally, where tourists flock there are also tourist souvenir shops like these along the road I took to get back to to Abidjan.
When the time came to move inland I managed to have someone accompany me to the Adjamé a bus terminal which is still reputed unsafe for isolated travellers even in daytime. Of course, being both lucky and accompanied, I had no problem boarding a big bus for Yamoussoukro.
Here is the incredible Basilica of Our Lady of Peace built by Houphouët-Boigny to reward Yamoussoukro for having been the birthplace of the "Father of the Nation". Largely copied on St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican it was erected in three years at a cost of more than 300 million dollars of state funds.
The Yamoussoukro Mosque was also built with public funds, probably to placate the Muslim 20 percent of the population about the huge amounts spent on the Basilica and on the nearby Presidential Palace where the great leader is now buried.
Boigny's grandiose monuments are unproductive, they are expensive to maintain and they stand out like alien entities in this African town but they draw little criticism from the people who seem to accept that their leaders have difficulty in distinguishing between public funds and their own private holdings.
One gentleman with whom I discussed the Basilica finally admitted that the money might have been better spent on roads, hospitals and schools but he countered that "The old man was a very generous person for he built a lot of concrete huts to replace peasant's straw shacks". Evidently, he did not see the difference either...
One day was enough to visit what Yamoussoukro had to offer. I stayed at the Akwaba (Welcome) Inn that you can see on the right across the lagoon and left on the following day by minibus for Korhogo further north.
I had a nice room with private bath at the "Hôtel du Centre" for only seven dollars. I felt much more at ease in Korhogo than in Yamoussoukro where the evidence of lavish waste got on my nerves.
I found the Senoufo people very friendly. Here I am sharing an excellent "kedjenou" chicken and "attiéké" dinner with Moussa, the owner of the "maquis" named after her. Beer came in one liter bottles it was good and not expensive.
The open lattice-work of the market protects from the sun but lets the air circulate.
Most Senoufo are Animist but there are both a large Catholic mission and a Mosque here.
The Senoufo are good artisans, they do textiles and iron forgings but their real specialty is wood carving. A whole district of the town is devoted to wood carving. Senoufo sculptures and masks can be found all over West Africa.
I had a good fortune to be introduced to the artist Kolo Coulibaly by his cousin Madou Coulibaly whom I had met on the bus from Yamoussoukro. Kolo travels regularly to Europe and sometimes to the USA to do large commissioned sculptures on the premises of his customers most of which are churches of various denominations. Kolo is Animist but you would swear that his magnificent crucified Christs have been inspired by a profound faith. He is is leaning on his own handiwork representing a "calao" which is a mythical bird revered as the protector of homes and villages. I would have loved to have it for my entrance hall but it would cost me more to ship than to buy it. That is why Kolo travels to do commissions.